I think, beyond the Oroboros-like fascination with death and the natural progression from personal death to the complete destruction of mankind, the reason we’re obsessed with the post apocalypse at the moment is partly due to the landscape of it all. When people read The Road, yes, the talk about the harrowing tale of a man and his son, but they also focus on the incredible way that McCarthy describes the country, abandoned and destroyed, only the destruction was organic, rather than structural; the buildings are still standing, or most of them, it’s just us that’s gone.
I love buildings, but I especially like abandoned ones. I’m going to expand that to structures, because I’ve got a special place in my heart for telephone poles and powerlines. They stand in the countryside, a monstrous, silent line across all this greenery, and it’s like man has stamped itself upon the world in a far more tangible and visible way than cities or roads. The squalor of a city only works as a single entity; each building doesn’t stand out, only the whole, the culmination of all that architecture. Each telephone pole, on the other hand, is a separate piece of punctuation, notable and noted as you pass, be it walking or on the train.
It’s less of an obsession with death as an obsession with what we’ll leave behind. I think that’s what drives my passion for these objects. They’re there, and they’re going to be there for as long as they can be. They’re built to last, and it’s quite likely that they’ll last beyond us. Beyond me, certainly, and that’s got a certain power to it. They’re there, immobile and uncaring, which lends them an otherworldlyness.
In his book Un Lun Dun, China Mieville talks about a twin city to London, living underneath it, but really in a slightly different plane of existence. Rubbish, in our world, seeps through the cracks, and that’s mostly because it goes unnoticed. Once in Un Lun Dun, it gains sentience, but that’s really besides the point; I just like the idea that, of all the things he could’ve picked, rubbish is transcendent. It’s the sort of ever-present thing that can go unnoticed while being constantly under the eye, and there’s a power in that. And while derelict buildings aren’t exactly rubbish, they’re similarly forgotten.
There’s a reason pictures like this are so compelling. The strength isn’t in the buildings and their contents; its in the absence of people, and the evidence of that absence. These structures were given meaning by their use, and now that they are no longer being used, they’ve become absurd in their emptiness. They have to exist for a reason, but the original purpose has escaped them. So they become whatever the viewer decides to instill them with. They’re old, broken, blank canvasses, the original paintings washed away by abandonment.
I think that’s why we’re so obsessed with post apocalypse at the moment. Because, in that scenario, people turn into the derelict buildings. They’ve had their purpose stripped away from them, and now they’ve had to find something new to define themselves by. And usually, that thing is mere survival, and that’s part of why it’s such a compelling idea. Also, the idea of a world that’s mostly empty, rather than one that’s mostly full, has got to be a little intriguing to society at large at the moment.
But for me, I’m happy with my run down buildings and telephone poles. A little bit of the post apocalypse, right outside my house, a few fields over.